Until the beginning of 1943, 15,000 Jews and people of Jewish ancestry (Geltungsjuden) who were engaged in forced labour deemed vital to the war effort in either Berlin factories or at institutions of the Jewish community were exempt from deportation.
However, on February 20, 1943, the department of Jewish affairs at the RSHA headed by Eichmann issued new regulations ordering the deportation of all forced labourers to Theresienstadt. According to the new policy, even Jews employed at factories crucial to the war effort were now eligible for deportation. Jewish spouses in mixed marriages and persons of Jewish ancestry who were not married to a Jewish spouse were still protected from deportation, even though this guideline was not rigidly followed.
The department for Jewish Affairs at the Berlin Gestapo, headed by Walter Stock and his deputy Max Stark, was in charge of organising this transport together with the Department of Jewish Affairs at the RSHA.
On February 27, 1943, SS officers of the elite Leibstandarte unit, armed with whips and bayonets, raided the factories in the Berlin area and brutally arrested thousands of Jewish workers. The labourers were taken by truck from their work places with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and were put into several assembly camps: Grosse Hamburger Strasse; the Clou Concert Hall; Mauerstrasse; the Herman-Göring barracks in Reinickendorf, and the Jewish community building on Rosenstrasse. There, these people had to lie either on the bare floor or on poor straw mattresses until their departure; without provisions and without water, regardless of whether they were infants or elderly people. Men, women and children were often separated, so that families were also transported separately. The Gestapo also arrested Jewish community workers, whose positions were to be filled by the Jewish spouses of mixed marriages who at that time were still exempt from deportation.
While the SS officers were raiding the factories in the operation known as the “Fabrikaktion” (Factory Action), the Berlin police and the Gestapo conducted manhunts in the streets, homes, and shops of Berlin, searching for Jews wearing the mandatory yellow badge. At the end of this large-scale operation, Berlin was cleared of Jews save for those who had gone into hiding, or Jews who were married to non-Jews, and those with a non-Jewish parent.
The detainees did not remain in the assembly camps for long. The Gestapo emptied these camps promptly, assembling one transport after another. The Jews were then transported to the Moabit freight station and loaded into cattle cars. Karl Hefter was on duty in the camp located at the Wachregiment barracks as an employee of the Jewish community. He witnessed the departure of these transports during which the SS indiscriminately pushed and threw the people into the wagons. The commanding Sturmführers handled whips to speed people up. Most of the detainees were deported to Auschwitz. A few were sent to Theresienstadt.
This transport was the 33rd to leave Berlin for the ghettos and killing sites in Eastern Europe and was thus designated “Osttransport 33”. It departed from the city’s Putlitzstrasse Station in the Moabit district on March 3, 1943 and arrived in Auschwitz the following day.
There were 1,726 Jews on this transport. On the day of their deportation they were ordered into a train consisting of closed cattle cars. A guard unit, usually composed of two SS men, was usually posted in the control compartment. The train usually went to Auschwitz via Breslau (Wroclaw) and Kattowitz (Katowice), but the constant strain put on the German railway system might have caused individual transports to take other routes.
Historian Danuta Czech notes in the Auschwitz Chronicles that a transport organized by the RSHA arrived in Auschwitz on March 4. It consisted of approximately 1,750 Jewish men, women and children from Berlin. Upon arrival outside the Auschwitz camp complex, the deportees were subject to a selection process carried out by the SS. 517 men, given Nos. 105571-106087, and 200 women, given Nos. 37296-37495, were sent to forced labour under harsh conditions which they rarely survived. The remaining 1,033 deportees, 115 of them men and 918 women, were sent directly to the gas chambers at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and murdered.
According to historian Rita Meyhoefer 28 of the deportees are known to have survived.
In his postwar memoires, survivor Siegbert Löffler, born in 1903 in Zempelburg (today Sępólno Krajeńskie, Poland), recalls the transport: "I worked as a dental technician in Berlin and on February 27, 1943 I was arrested by Gestapo officials at my workplace. They wore SS uniforms and were armed with carbines. (...) Together with other detainees, I was first placed in a dance hall on Leipziger Strasse and the corner of Mauerstrasse. The hall was guarded of course. As far as I recall, we stayed in this hall for one day and one night, and were then loaded onto freight cars. (...) The transport was headed for the concentration camp Auschwitz. (...) Gestapo men constantly abused us at the arrest and deportation point. (...) Both women and men were transported from Berlin in freight cars. We could only sleep standing up in the freight car as we stood so closely to each other. Three or four days passed until the transport arrived at Auschwitz. At the freight station in Berlin, we received 2 thick slices of bread with margarine as our food ration. During the entire journey there was no food anymore. In my car there were only people fit for work. (...) In each wagon was a bucket, which was to be used as a toilet. The cars with the prisoners were sealed from the outside. There was no medical staff on board the train. Gestapo officials wearing SS uniforms accompanied the transport in separate wagons and sported bayonets. They were present at the final destination, but I do not know whether they were the same officials who got on the train in Berlin. When we disembarked we were pushed and insulted by the Gestapo, but afterwards we had no contact with them anymore. At unloading at first the entire transport had to report. Afterwards doctors, dentists and dental technicians were called up".